UMass Amherst students sit at a table in a classroom

Strategic Initiatives

Student Learning Outcomes

Research shows that the best way to determine what college students know and can do is to examine their learning outcomes from multiple viewpoints. Massachusetts is part of a national effort to develop student learning assessment tools that capture the complexity of college learning better than a single standardized test, and allows for comparisons between public campuses in the state and similiar institutions in other states. Though the work is challenging, being able to assess and compare student learning will improve teaching and help campuses not only identify problem areas but understand how to solve them.

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education leads and participates in a number of efforts to advance student learning assessment.

Background: Massachusetts LEAP State Initiative

In June 2011, on the recommendation of the Vision Project Working Group on Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment (PDF Phase II Report ), former Commissioner Richard Freeland directed the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) to begin planning to apply for LEAP State status from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Former Commissioner Freeland assembled an Advisory Group of Presidents who worked with him on the application, including a proposal for a signature initiative to develop an assessment system that met following criteria:

  • Presents assessment outcomes in ways understandable by non-academic stakeholders
  • Centers on using actual student work, closely linked to curriculum and to the instruction work of the faculty
  • Allows comparison of student learning across institution and state lines

AAC&U accepted Massachusetts and its proposed LEAP State initiative, which then proceeded on two tracks: the state level and the national level. A PDF Timeline of Massachusetts' Work on Learning Outcomes Assessment also details the milestones of these early efforts.

State Level: Initial Massachusetts Model
Organizational diagram showing the State Level project at the center, aurrounded by three boxes: one representing the Task Force on Statewide Assessment, providing broad oversight for Massachusetts, above; another representing the Massachusetts Team, Developing a statewide assessment model of student learning for MA public campuses, below left; and the last representing the State Partner Team, representing MA in the Multistate Collaborative to develop a multistate program of assessment. Lines connect each box to the other two boxes, and a fourth line connects the State Partner Team to an external box, the Multistate Collaborative.

Work officially began in June 2012 to develop (1) a Massachusetts model for learning outcomes assessment that meets the above criteria and (2) a plan to pilot the model beginning January 2013. This work, bringing together 22 public campuses with the Department of Higher Education, was overseen by the Massachusetts Task Force on Statewide Assessment and executed by the 11-member Massachusetts Team with input from the State Partner Team.

The first pilot of the Massachusetts Model, utilizing authentic student work from seven public campuses in Massachusetts, ran from January to April 2013. After studying the results, the Massachusetts Team prepared a report for the Massachusetts Task Force on Statewide Assessment, recommending continuing with a second pilot. The Task Force made the same recommendation to Former Commissioner Freeland, who agreed to a second pilot that replicated and ran parallel to the first national pilot.

National Level: Multistate Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment (MSC)
United States map indicating the nine states (CT, IN, KY, MA, MO, OR, RI, UT) participating in the Multistate Collaborative (MSC), preparing a model and pilot plan for the MSC.

Beginning in March 2012, Massachusetts, SHEEO, and AAC&U discussed with other states the proposal for a Multistate Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment (MSC), and in December 2012 eight other states joined the partnership: Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Utah. Each state appointed members to the MSC as a whole and to an MSC Working Group, which then began the work of developing (1) a multistate model for learning outcomes assessment that meets the above criteria and (2) a plan to pilot the model in 2014.

Recent News

game changer award

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education recently received the second Terrel L. Rhodes Game Changer Award from American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) at its General Education, Pedagogy & Assessment Conference Opening Plenary on Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the Providence Convention Center. Richard Riccardi, the Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs & Student Success received the award representing Commissioner Ortega, In the picture from left to right is Terrel Rhodes; Lynn Pasquerella, President of AAC&U; Lane Glenn, President of Northern Essex Community College and Chair of the statewide Assessment Advisory Council; and Robert Awkward, Assistant Commissioner for Academic Effectiveness who leads institutional assessment for the DHE.  

This is a significant accomplishment for the Mass. DHE. We are the second to receive this award from AAC&U after it was given to and renamed after Terrel Rhodes who is the father of VALID Rubrics. This award recognizes our legacy work to help create the Multi-State Collaborative and to nurture and encourage the use of authentic student artifacts and the VALID Rubrics as a means for assessing student learning for essential learning outcomes (e.g., written communications, critical thinking, quantitative literacy, etc.). This ultimately involved 13 other states before AAC&U took this over completely from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO).

Last Update: April 30, 2024

Meeting Materials

Council of Presidents
April 14, 2017
Download: Continuing to Advance the Culture of Assessment

Board of Higher Education
March 21, 2017
Download: Continuing to Advance the Culture of Assessment in Massachusetts

Community College Council of Presidents
February 22, 2019
Download: DHE Learning Outcomes Assessment Update

February 17, 2017
Download: The State of DHE Assessment